Life begins at 40. Or so the saying goes.
Turns out, it actually begins at 50 and beyond, with The University of the Third Age (U3A) ably demonstrating that those entering retirement or semi-retirement age are more than enthusiastic about expanding horizons. Learning new tricks is no longer the exclusive realm of the young pups.
A non-for-profit international movement for members of the community in their third 'age' of life, U3A originally formed in France, reaching the UK in the 1980s and growing swiftly. Evidence of the fact that people of retirement age have something very valuable to contribute to society, the number of U3A groups bloomed, with the emphasis being on combating isolation whilst offering the chance to try something new.
From astronomy, classic car-appreciation, and guitar lessons, U3As encourage members to pitch, establish, and host new groups to engage in countless pastimes. Encompassing everything from from book clubs to Pilates, the possibilities are truly endless provided there is someone to run the group and enough people willing to give it a go.
There are now over 1,000 U3As across the country with each retaining a unique autonomous entity and a self-financing and self-managing model. In the North West alone, there are a combined 43,000 U3A members, with the region's 100th and latest group - the Chorley-based West Pennine Villages U3A - having held its inaugural meeting earlier this month.
"We are delighted to get our new U3A group off the ground," said Ann Furlong, the new group's chair. "U3As are totally volunteer-run bodies which raise their own funds and organise their own activities [so] we hope people will come and join us and help us to grow. We want to offer a great place for like-minded enthusiasts to meet and enjoy learning some new skills while having lots of fun.
"Gardeners and classic car enthusiasts are enjoying a new club in the Chorley area, and the club is also offering a walking group, family history, indoor board game sessions, a theatre group, and a lunch group," added Ann. "The U3A’s aim is to get people together to enjoy learning new skills, make new friends, do something active and have fun."
Covering an area to the east of Chorley, the West Pennine Villages U3A encompasses Withnell, Wheelton, Hoghton, Abbey Village, White Coppice, Heapey, Riley Green, Brinscall, Whittle, and Clayton-le-Woods, and meets at the Withnell Fold Sports and Social Club on Wednesdays from 10am to noon, allowing members to meet up for a chat and a cuppa and discuss new groups they want to set up.
So far, there has been plenty of interest, with 80 people at the inaugural meeting.
Jacqui Owen, the vice-chair of the North West Region of U3As committee, said: "Sitting on the committee comes with a variety of activities in which you can involve yourself [and] early in 2019, I was lucky enough to have the chance to be a part of the start-up of number 100 U3A in North West England - the West Pennine Villages U3A.
"There was no doubt a U3A was very much welcomed, with over 90 suggested group activities [at the launch meeting]," added Jacqui. "There was already a very keen active group taking the lead to become a steering committee [as well as] a good response to the request for more people to fill extra roles."
The benefits of meeting up with like-minded people can not be underestimated. “Many organisations offer learning and development courses [but] U3A is uniquely for older people, giving you the opportunity to meet and make new friends who share the same interests or lifestyle," said a spokesperson for Age UK. "If you’ve always wanted to learn a particular skill, or enjoy sharing your knowledge with others, U3A could be a good option for you.
"It's learning for fun, not with the aim of gaining qualifications," they added.
There is an annual subscription fee of £20 (£16.50 if you are a full member of another U3A) for the West Pennine Villages U3A.